By Michael Lewis
CHICAGO -- Some goalkeepers will let the pressure get to them when a match is ultimately decided on penalty kicks.
Then there is Panama’s Jaime Penedo, who welcomes the challenge.
The 31-year-old thrives on stopping penalty kicks in tie-breaking circumstances, especially in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, where he has faced the scenario three times in the previous four editions of the competition.
He hasn't been called upon to pull off any late-match heroics in this tournament, but there is one more game remaining -- the final at Soldier Field on Sunday against the United States.
"I feel less tense when facing a long shootout when it comes to that part of extratime," Penedo said after Panama’s practice at the University of Illinois-Chicago on Friday. "You have to be disciplined and you have to know to manage situations. It's easier for me to handle -- long shootouts than it would just to be PKs."
Penedo's most memorable Gold Cup shootout moments came in the 2005 tournament, when he faced them twice -- against South Africa in the quarterfinals (Panama advanced 5-3 pens) and in the final against the United States, which triumphed 3-1 on penalties after a scoreless draw for its third title.
"I have that game in my memory as it was yesterday," Penedo recalled. "Of course, it's a possibility of the game ending in a shootout because of how tough the conditions will be inside. So, we'll be prepared to handle the situation."
In the 2011 Gold Cup quarterfinals, Penedo was at it again, making a key save in the shootout to help Panama advance 5-3 on after playing El Salvador to a 1-1 draw.
Participating in his fifth consecutive Gold Cup, the former Municipal goalkeeper has the confidence of his teammates, whether it is denying goals in the run of play or making a dramatic stop in a shootout.
"He always tells us, the forwards, to handle that top of the field," Jairo Jiménez said. "It's our job to make the goals and that he'll take care of that back end of the goal. We know that we can trust him and we're happy to have him in the back."
Penedo was at the top of his game in Panama's 2-1 semifinal triumph over Mexico in Arlington, Texas, on Wednesday, the second time the Central Americans defeated El Tri by the same score in the cup.
"The key is that we are a great group," noted Penedo, who has accumulated 82 caps. "We are disciplined and we have concentration. We are a national team that dreams big and we work hard for that."
Penedo has made four appearances in this Gold Cup, allowing three goals and posting one shutout.
He is confident Panama will make history and earn its first Gold Cup title.
"Because we want it, we dream it and we desire it," he said. "We know we can give our country a lot of happiness and pride.
"Discipline is always a factor, but also the wish and hope that we have as a national team. I think playing against big nations like the U.S. and Mexico is always that great hope that we have in order to beat them."
But Penedo realized that it won't be easy against an American side that has won all of its five matches, outscoring its opposition, 19-3.
"It's a team that has done a good job in World Cup qualifying and has had the results in the last couple of months," he said. "It's going to be a difficult team that we are going to face."